Portrait of young male dentist wearing surgical mask while examining patient's mouth

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienist is a preventive oral health professional who has graduated from accredited dental hygiene programs in any institution of higher learning that is licensed in dental hygiene in order to provide skills, research, clinical, therapeutic services and administrative functions supporting the total health and promotion of optimum oral health. A dental hygienist is not the same as a dentist. This is because the dental hygienist focuses on the preventive care while the dentist is more on the diagnosis and treatment of the dental problems. The dental hygienist provides only three types of services to their patients:

  • Patient education on the good oral hygiene
  • Preventive oral care
  • Therapeutic services to the patient
Portrait of young male dentist wearing surgical mask while examining patient’s mouth

Like other medical careers, a dental hygienist should have compassion while working with patients, mostly those patients who are emotionally sensitive and those ones who may be in pain. Dental hygienists also have good interpersonal skills and a technical ability to operate and maintain powered medical devices used in dental treatment. If you are willing and planning to become a dental hygienist, the following is the guideline on how you can start your career;

  • Make sure you complete and pass your high school studies

To join a dental hygienist program, you are required to complete your General Education Development. Complete your high school studies and pass your exams in order to move into another level.

  • Take your SAT or ACT exams.

Most universities, community colleges and technical colleges require one to complete college entrance exams. This is because they will use the results in determining your high school performance records and the college entrance exams shall be used to evaluate your proficiency in English, math, biology and chemistry.

  • Apply for a degree program in dental hygiene.

You can apply for a two year certificate program with technical school and ensure that the program is accredited and can help you in passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination. You can also apply the degree program in applied sciences associate’s degree in dental hygiene that is normally run by community colleges. These programs can take up to two years with the inclusion of a clinical study and comprehensive classroom. A four year bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene is also another option course to apply for a dental hygiene program. In the program, you will take general liberal arts prerequisites and a science and clinical dental studies. The course is best for those candidates who wish to continue with their master’s degree program.

  • Complete a dental hygiene coursework for your state license

Make sure that you have completed the required number of classroom and clinical hours in order to obtain a state license.

  • Take Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation course

Most of the states require their RDH candidates to have a certified Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation certificate.

  • Apply and take a National Board Dental Hygiene Examination

The exam is provided by American Dental Association and it’s a requirement for all candidates taking RDH education. The candidate will be required to give proof of training and recommendation letters in order to take these exams.

  • Apply for the state license

Consult the state’s dental hygiene licensing board for the application of state license.

  • Make sure you pass the state clinical exam

Passing state clinical exam will offer you a license to practice your dental hygienist and a title of a registered dental hygienist.

  • Apply for RDH jobs

You can search through newspapers or online and apply for available jobs. Communication and interpersonal skills are essential because most of the dental offices have switched into digital records, therefore requiring the skills.

  • Take your time and network with local dental community in your area

Ensure that you attend job fairs and conferences that can put you in touch with different dentists’ offices in the area.

  • You can contact the dental offices in the local area and ask them to have your resume kept in their office files for future openings.

Duties of the dental hygienist

  • Educate the patients about the good oral hygiene by explaining clearly how to brush teeth correctly and flossing correctly
  • Examining the patients’ teeth and gums
  • Cleaning the teeth, removing the tarter, plaque and stains
  • Developing and taking of dental x-rays
  • Manage the dental care of the patient
  • Check any problems that is related to tooth and gum
  • Provide proper findings to the dentists during the checkup
  • Administering the local anesthesia
  • Administering fluoride
  • Applying the sealants to the teeth
  • Performs root planting and scaling for patients with periodical disease.











Process of care

  • Assessment of the patient

When performing the dental hygiene process of care, dental hygienist will assess the oral tissues and overall health of the patient in order to determine the presence or the absence of any disease, disease risks and any other abnormalities. This involves taking the full medical history of the patient, clinical examination, taking of dental x-rays and performing a periodontal assessment. Documentation of the findings is done at this stage to prepare for the diagnosis of the dental hygiene problems.

  • Diagnosis of the dental hygiene

A dental hygiene diagnosis that is based on the clinical findings will be gathered during the assessment of the patient and then reviewed to identify any problem. Any problem identified shall need the approval of the dentist before planning for the treatment.

  • Treatment plan

The plan of treating the patient shall be done basing on the immediate needs of the patient. Every problem shall be addressed in treatment plan as required.

  • Implementation

Implementation of the data starts by carrying out all the treatment plans starting with most immediate to least urgent needs. All the clinical procedures that are outlined in the treatment plan will be performed as required regarding the oral hygiene and preventive oral care.

  • Evaluation

Evaluate all the outcomes of each educational strategies and every clinical procedure that is provided to its effectiveness. In case the treatment may be deemed to be ineffective, another approach shall be carried out in order to address the problems that may be remaining.

Pros and cons of being a dental hygienist


  • It pays well
  • The job has a high demand
  • One may have an opportunity of working part-time
  • You will not work at night or weekends because most of the clinics close by 5:00 pm and do not open during weekends


  • Requires a repetitive tasks
  • Diseases, decay and bad breath can be unpleasant to deal with
  • You may interact with inconsiderate and rude patients
  • There is not a lot of job choices
  •  Requires an education of two to four years.

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